Beautiful Terrible, 2007-2009
The short film “Beautiful Terrible” is based on the sudden disappearance of White Lake (Bolotnikovo, Russia) in May of 2005. Scientists and geologists announced that it was a logical explanation due to a series of underground caves that collapsed. And yet the real effect was a reminder that nature is far more mysterious, dangerous, and volatile than we can admit to each day. This called out a sense of wonder and humility in me and I became determined to see the lake disappear, as no one really had, sucking the trees in as it drained. The idea filled me with a sense of awe and terror. I began to research the White Lake and became further fascinated with its history…tales of towering churches sinking into the water and resting just below its 48 foot deep surface, villagers houses disappearing in the 1930’s through sudden gaps in the earth, the rumored sudden appearance of the lake during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. There was no satisfaction in the scientific explanation for the reality that the lake had disappeared. In reality its disappearance has left folkloric speculation in its place. All these stories called for images.
In 2007 and 2008 I built a four by five foot scale model of the White Lake in order to reconstruct its disappearance on film. The images generated by this process depict an uncanny place: the shift between presence and absence, the gap between what is actual and what exists in our memory or imagination. I am trained as a painter and the practice and conversation of painting informs everything I make in my art practice. I am aware that the lake is like the memento mori in a traditional vanitas still-life, a reminder of loss or death. I have also researched the historical idea of the sublime and it has greatly informed the film. American painters from the 19th century struggled to depict an overwhelming natural world in minute detail; their work is both a depiction of the created world and a recognition of the smallness of man against the vast, often untamed, wilderness. In “Beautiful Terrible” I have attempted to depict both the beauty and humility that nature can inspire by using the instance of the White Lake.
Stills from the film have been exhibited along with the screenings. The model from the original set has been part of two installations in 2009.